Syracuse, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Newly-formed ACC foes mix it up in the East Regional Semifinals on Friday night, as the NC State Wolfpack and Louisville Cardinals square off at the Carrier Dome.
The winner will advance to the Elite Eight to face either Michigan State or Oklahoma.
NC State pulled off a stunner in ousting the East's top seed, Villanova, last Saturday, 71-68, to reach this point in the tournament. For the eighth-seeded Wolfpack, it meant logging its 22nd win of the season, against 13 defeats, and improving the team's all-time record in the Big Dance to 37-24. This is NC State's 26th NCAA Tournament appearance, and the team has a pair of national title to its credit (1974 and 1983). The Pack knocked off LSU in the second round of the tourney, 66-65, and has now won five of its last six games and eight of its last 10 overall.
Louisville is the No. 4 seed in the East, and it has reached this juncture of the tourney by dispatching both UC Irvine (57-55) and Northern Iowa (66-53). As a result, the Cardinals sit at 26-8 on the season, and they have won three of their last four games entering this encounter. Louisville has been a force in the NCAA Tournament over the years, going 74-41 in 41 total appearances, with 10 Final Four appearances and three national titles (1980, 1986 and 2013), the last of which was won with Hall-of-Fame coach Rick Pitino at the controls.
NC State holds a narrow 9-8 edge in the all-time series with Louisville, which includes a 74-65 win on the Cardinals' home floor on Valentine's Day. UofL was ranked ninth in the country at the time. As a result, the Wolfpack has won the last three meetings, and has never lost to the Cardinals in three previous tournament games, although this is the first in the postseason as the others were during in-season, holiday events.
Trevor Lacey scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists, while Abdul Malik-Abu (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Lennard Freeman (11 points, 12 rebounds) each logged a double-double to lead NC State to last Saturday's upset of No. 1 seed Villanova. Anthony Barber also got in on the action by netting 13 points for the Wolfpack, which controlled the contest at both ends of the court, save for a late rally by the Wildcats. Villanova shot just 31.1 percent from the field, going 9-of-28 from 3-point range in the process. The 'Cats did convert 21-of-23 free throws while turning the ball over only five times, but they were beaten badly on the boards, 45-32, and outscored in the paint, 34-14.
Lacey (15.3 ppg), Turner Ralston (14.2 ppg) and Barber (11.4 ppg) are all averaging double figures for the Pack this season, as the team generates 69.1 ppg thanks in large part to a 36.4 percent performance out on the perimeter. Defensively, NC State allows 66.1 ppg, although foes are shooting only 40.5 percent from the floor.
Louisville turned what was expected to be a tight game into something a bit more comfortable as it topped Northern Iowa last weekend by double digits. The Cardinals got 25 points and seven assists from Terry Rozier, 14 points and six rebounds from Montrezl Harrell, and 10 points each from Wayne Blackshear and Quentin Snider. Pitino's group, which logged a 17-11 edge in points at the charity stripe, played very well at the defensive end by limiting the Panthers to 39.1 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 6-of-19 showing beyond the arc. UofL was guilty of only seven turnovers in the game, after committing just nine in the narrow win over UCI in its tournament opener.
The Cardinals boast three active double-digit scorers as well, with Rozier and his 17.2 ppg leading the way. Also the team's primary playmaker (100 assists) and one of its better rebounders (5.2 rpg), Rozier gets considerable help from Harrell (15.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and Blackshear (11.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) most nights in an effort to help the team put up 68.8 ppg despite lackluster shooting efforts of .429 overall, .308 from 3-point range, and .667 at the free-throw line. The Cardinals' defensive prowess allows opponents an average of just 59.2 ppg, doing so behind typical shooting efforts of .391 overall and .295 from 3-point land. Favorable margins in both rebounding (+2.9) and turnovers (+2.7) have also played a role in the team's overall level of success.